Saturday, 12 September 2009

Women Chainmakers' Festival

Your humble authors ventured out on a day trip to the Black Country Living Museum for the fifth annual festival marking of the women chainmakers' strike of 1910. It was a vitally important victory for the labour movement, which established a trade board that enforced a minimum wage in the chain making industry. Once the principle was established trade boards spread to other industries. It wasn't until Thatcher came in that this important reform was clawed back by the ruling class, which was eventually re-implemented through New Labour's national minimum wage. Because of their victory the take home pay of millions of Britain's most exploited workers improved and strengthened the bargaining position of labour for the best part of a century.

Moving forward to the 99th anniversary celebrated today Brother S and I joined in the festivities (thanks to
North Staffs TUC) on what must have been the nicest day of the year. We took a trip down the pit, checked out the newly-built Workers' Institute building (moved brick-by-brick from Cradley Heath), had some fine fish & chips, went on a march, potted about the main museum building and missed speeches and debates in the Left Field union tent (incidentally, why did Bookmarks stall, 'the official book supplier to the TUC' sell titles only from the SWP and no other political party? Just askin').

It's a miracle I avoided sun burn. There were thousands attending so some will be suffering as I write this.

But it was an excellent day. Already it's acquiring a reputation as the West Midland's answer to the
Tolpuddle Martyrs festival and the Durham Miners' Gala. I hope next year our TUC takes more of us down (there was eight this time) and that visitors' ranks are filled with trade unionists and socialists from across the country. And who knows, perhaps it would be a good time for an overdue leftie twitter/blogger meet up?


HarpyMarx said...

Now I feel guilty..... The LRC had been cancelled and I did toy with the idea of going to this. And from your post it looked really good. Is there any literature documenting this strike they recommended?

Anyway, I spent the day in Greenwich with a day off revolutionary duty. :)

Bro S said...

And phil and I were looking forward to meeting you for a drink Harpy!

The museum in conjunction with the NUT,GMB and TUC have published a short, illustrated history of the strike- 'Women Chainmakers, Be Anvil or Hammer'. I imagine if you contact the museum they will send you a copy. If not, let me know and I will be able to get you one but there shouldn't be a problem.

Brother S said...


Sheila Blackburn is a labour historian who has written on the subject in greater depth.

Phil BC said...

Sack cloth and ashes for you!

Unfortunately I haven't found a good online account of what happened beyond this piece by the Wobblies.

Jim Denham said...

I was there: could have met you in the 'Bottle and Glass' if I'd known.

Phil BC said...

Bugger. We'll have a proper meet next year.

HarpyMarx said...

Thanks Bro S and Phil (sack cloth and ashes indeed!)

I will contact the Museum re illustrated guide. Again, thanks for that.

Brother S said...

It is not a case of the Empire where the sun never sets, but where the wage never rises!